Rajeshwari Sachdev has done it all — TV, films, theatre and web series. The National Award-winner, who was recently seen in the TV show Shaadi Mubarak, has won hearts with her performances across all mediums. Taking a walk down memory lane, Rajeshwari recounts her tryst with theatre.
In 2015, Rajeshwari reignited her passion for theatre for actor and theatre director Lillete Dubey’s play, Gauhar Jaan. Based on the book, My Name is Gauhar Jaan: The Life and Times of a Musician, written by Vikram Sampath, the play saw Rajeshwari transform into Gauhar Jaan, the singer who holds the distinction of being the first Indian to have her songs recorded in 1902. The book traces the rise and fall of one of the most successful female musicians of that era, and the play brings to life several aspects of Gauhar Jaan’s life.
Talking about the play and the challenges she faced in getting into the skin of the character, Rajeshwari says, “When Lillete Dubey [director of the play] approached me for the role, I was hesitant as I have no formal training in classical music, and here had to enact the role of a classical singer! However, I had a natural instinct for music and decided to get a basic understanding of classical music to help me perfect the act. And, I am glad I did as it got me positive responses from the audience.” The play, besides Rajeshwari, also features Zila Khan in pivotal role.
Apart from Gauhar Jaan, Rajeshwari also did an experimental play, Shabd Leela featuring Ila Arun, KK Raina and her husband, actor Varun Badola. Interestingly, Rajeshwari met Varun for the first time when she was co-hosting the popular music reality show, Antakshari (1994-2001) along with Annu Kapoor. They tied the knot in 2004.
Rajeshwari’s repertoire also boasts of several Shyam Benegal films, like Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda (1992), Mammo (1994), Sardari Begum (1996), Samar (1999), Hari-Bhari (2000), Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2005), Welcome to Sajjanpur (2008).
Sharing her experience of working with the filmmaker, Rajeshwari says, “I have been lucky to work with Shyamji in different movies. They were performance-oriented roles, and I feel lucky to get what I wanted. Each role that I did was important to the story — be it the role of singer in Sardari Begum or the young widow who wants to remarry in Welcome to Sajjanpur, they all added value to the plot.
When asked which artistic expression (singing, dancing or acting) fascinates her the most, Rajeshwari promptly replies, “Every art form is important, and I am okay with all of them as long as am getting paid! Though, initially, I was a little dejected as I didn’t get roles, which would help me show off my calibre as a dancer. But, that dream was fulfilled with Nach Baliye.” Not just on TV, stage or films, Rajeshwari has also showed her singing talent through songs and albums like Hulle Hullare, Mukhda Piya Ka, Ummang, Chandramukhi, among others.
While recollecting how her journey in acting, dance and theatre began, Rajeshwari says, “During my childhood, we used to live in Matunga-Sion area in Mumbai. The famous Sri Rajarajeswari Bharata Natya Kala Mandir was close to our place. I wanted to learn classical dance, and I enrolled there and took lessons in Bharatanatyam for 14 years. That’s how dance began for me. Also, my father, actor Inderjit Sachdev, was associated with IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association), and that is how I got associated with acting. I was a part of the theatre group for children known as Bal Maanch, and the first play I did was Bhakri.”
Rajeshwari made her Marathi film debut with the 1991 Aayatya Gharat Gharoba. Ask her about her foray into the Marathi film industry Rajeshwari sings off by saying, “In school, we had the option to choose between Marathi and French. My father insisted that I learn the former, even though I was inclined to take the latter. But, in hindsight, taking Marathi helped me bag my first Marathi film Aayatya Gharat Gharoba opposite Sachin Pilgoankar, for which I won the Maharashtra State Award as the best actress.”